A tour of the city's center
From Lion Square to Old Harbour
We start our tour from Lion Square, the heart of Heraklion city and
one of the most vibrant meeting spots of the city.
Lion Square is also called the Morosini
Fountain or, Liondaria
(Lions) in Greek or, more properly, Plateia
Eleftheriou Venizelou, after Eleftherios Venizelos, Crete's
greatest man of state.
The decorated fountain standing in the middle of the square is
composed of eight cisterns and decorated with stone relief,
depicting figures of Greek mythology, Nymphs, Tritons, sea monsters
and dolphins, while the main basin is supported by four sitting
lions balancing a circular bowl on their heads. It was left by
Francesco Morosini, the Italian governor who had it built to
commemorate Venetian success in bringing much needed water, through
a brilliantly executed viaduct system, from Mount Youchtas to the
centre of the city.
25th August Street
Connecting Lions Square with the Old Harbour this street for
pedestrians is full of coffee shops, tourist shops, banks, beauty
shops and historical monuments.
The street takes its name from 1898's massacre of many Cretans
& British by the Turks. This event and many others led
eventually to the declaration of the Cretan state and its
unification with Greece in 1913.
Where the street meets Lions Square stands St. Mark's Basilica
acting now as the Municipal Art Gallery hosting art and crafts
exhibitions. Built in 1239 in the Piazza delle Biade (Square of the
Grain), it was at one time the Cathedral of Crete. The Basilica
belonged to the reigning Duke, eventually becoming his burial
A little further and you discover Loggia of
Venetian architecture, which functioned as a club for the nobility
to gather and relax. The Loggia is a wonderful example of Venetian
building, unmistakable with its semi-circular arches. Ιt was built
in the 16th century and was located in the Piazza dei Signori
(Square of the Administrative Authorities). Today, the
Loggia, decorated with sculptured coat of arms,
trophies and metopes, houses part of the town-hall of Heraklion.
The Loggia was awarded the Europa Nostra first prize in 1987 for
the best renovated and preserved European monument of the year.
Walking down the street we reach St. Titus
Cathedral, an impressive basilica built during the second
During Venetian rule it housed the seat of the Catholic
archbishop and was renovated in 1466, only to be ruined in a fire
in 1544. During the Turkish Occupation it served as a mosque and
called Vizier Tzami, when a minaret was added, now gone. The
present-day structure is the result of further renovations after
its almost entire destruction by a strong earthquake in 1856, and
later work which followed in 1922. The skull of St Titus was
transferred here from Venice in 1956 and has since been kept in the
At the end of the "25th August" Street we can see the Venetian
Fortress that stands guard over the harbour. Built between 1523 and
1540, the fortress was known to the Venetians as the Rocca
al Mare, to the Turks as Koules.
The fortress is undeniably impressive; massively sturdy walls
command superb views over the harbour and town and protect a series
of chambers (many piled with cannonballs) in which the defenders of
the city must have enjoyed an overwhelming sense of security.
With its huge dark hallways and cells, the fortress was also a
prison to many Cretan rebels and those who broke the rules imposed
by successive occupiers of Crete.
Nowadays, the harbour itself is home to brightly coloured
fishing boats and busy taverns selling fresh fish. At night, when
the fortress is floodlit, the causeway leading to it is the haunt
of courting couples, while the niches in the walls provide a fine
place to watch the ships and boats coming and going.
Looking back from the fortress towards the city you will see the
strong arches which housed boats under repair and were used as an
arsenal for storing guns and gunpowder. The greatest threat to the
Venetian stronghold of Heraklion, or Candia, as it was named, was
thought to come from the seaward side of the city, and indeed, many
naval skirmishes were fought off this coast. The view northward
takes in the uninhabited island of Dia where evidence of an ancient
Minoan settlement (approx 2700-1450 BC) was found by diver Jacques
Cousteau. Boat trips can be booked from travel shops throughout
central Heraklion, as can excursions to various places of
Tip: The Venetian Harbour
of Heraklion is particularly nice in the evening hours, and offers
the chance for a romantic and intimate stroll.
The mole of the harbor starts here; it offers an ideal place for
leisurely strolls during summer. Tourists, visitors and locals
enjoy the soothing sea breeze and the view to the harbor. The mole
is also an excellent fishing spot; you can see amateur fishermen
here waiting patiently for a fish all day long. If you feel like
fishing, get your fishing rod or pole and get there. You can start
a conversation with locals who will be more than glad to tell you
stories about the Fortress and its history.
Tip: You can walk along
the sea wall that starts from Koules and runs two kilometers into
the sea up to the lighthouse; do not miss sitting for a nice coffee
at the 'Marina' café opposite from Koules and enjoy a nice glass of
ouzo and seafood tidbits at the tavernas around the harbor.